The audition process & tips for success

Editor: Trumpetland.com
ISSN: 2254-8521

2018-07-03

The audition process & tips for success

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This “article” came about after many people asking about auditions, whether it was a student of mine or someone in a masterclass. After a handful of times, I thought I would solidify my thoughts on paper. These thoughts, however, are definitely not my own — they have been handed down to me, shared with me, read, and, in some cases, come from personal experience. I could obviously expound upon each point, but decided to keep my comments as succinct as possible — this way the person reading this could add their own experiences and teaching to the list or simply structure it in a way that affects them in a positive way. Auditioning can be daunting, but if you know what to expect, then mystery of it all doesn’t affect you as much. Unfortunately, auditions are a part of our profession and we need to learn how to do it to the best of our ability. I hope these tips help at least one person that is beginning or has been on the audition trail.

James Ackley

Principal Trumpet at South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra. Professor at University of South Carolina (United States)

» James Ackley in the Encyclopedia of Trumpet Players

I. Audition Openings

A. An orchestra will advertise musician openings.

  • In the United States, union orchestras will advertise in the International Musician Magazine — The monthly musicians union newspaper. [Sometimes, especially with international orchestras, there are no announcements — it is all done by word of mouth.]

  • If not a member of a local musicians union, you can subscribe yearly to the union paper. Contact the AFM — American Federation of Musicians.

  • Non-union orchestras advertise several different ways — job postings in newspapers, websites, flyers sent to college music departments, etc. Many local/community orchestra use this method of advertisement.

  • Several websites may list jobs from all over the world. Among these is our own Trumpetland.

B. Applying for an opening.

  • Send a cover letter and resume. The resume should not be more than 1-page in length. Keep the cover letter should be short and to the point. If it is submitted via email, keep the email short and to the point.

    • Dear Search Committee, upon hearing of your opening for the position of _________, please accept my enclosed resume for consideration. Sincerely, _________.

  • Within a week to two, you will receive word if you are accepted to the audition. Legally, even if rejected, you can still take the audition (at least in the USA). Some orchestras may have recorded preliminary rounds, where you will need to make a recording and submit it for consideration. The orchestra will then invite a smaller group of people. Every orchestra is different.

  • If a recorded round is needed: then directions are normally given as to how they would like you to record. You MUST abide by these rules or risk not being asked for a live audition. If they do not give any information about how to record, then here are a few suggestions:

    • Use the best microphone you can find (Neumann, Sony, or similar).

    • Use a digital format. Of course, most everything today is in digital format.

    • Record in a good acoustical environment that is quiet (e.g. larger room, smaller hall). Do not add digital reverb.

    • Ideally, mic placement should be approx. 6-8 feet off of the floor and at least 10 feet in front of the player. Test it out, you may sound best pointing straight at the mic or to the side of the mic. Louder passages should move the VU meter into the red occasionally, but not distort the sound quality.

    • Do not try and record everything in one session, and try several takes of each excerpt. Use the best take. It is in your own best interest to record a true representation of your playing.

    • Do not edit individual passages. You may edit out silences between excerpts, etc., but not the excerpt.

    • What you should hear on your recording: great sound quality, great rhythm, great intonation, great musicianship, correct interpretations of the excerpts, clear articulations, and clean technique throughout.

  • An audition information sheet and an excerpt list will be sent to you. The information will tell you the general time, place and other particulars of the audition. Each audition is different.

    • Sometimes, audition lists are very specific with measure numbers or rehearsal letters. Other times, the list will only have titles of the works. Either way, the musician should always know the entire work and be prepared to play anything.

    • Some orchestras will provide copies of the excerpts that they want to hear, especially if these excerpts are difficult to obtain. If the orchestra asks for a piece that is rental only, it is common practice for the orchestra to provide the music to all who audition.

II. Preparing for the Audition

A. Listen to different recordings and play off of the original parts.

  • Individual parts can be purchased through Luck’s Music, Patelson’s (New York City), Kalmus, and Education Music Service & your teacher may have copies!

  • Excerpt books: while an important tool, may contain wrong articulations, dynamics or even notes, but most definitely has incomplete excerpts. Try and get your hands on the actual part.

B. Score study is extremely important. Not only should you be aware of who you play with, etc., but the color of sound you are looking for each time you play, as well as the phrasing.

C. Practice, practice, practice; work with a tuner and a metronome. An excellent way to judge your playing is to record yourself playing the excerpts. Make sure you can sing each excerpt clearly and in-tune with yourself.

D. Mock auditions are vital in helping to prepare mentally and physically for the real audition experience. Imagining the audition experience when practicing along is also very helpful. When doing a “self” mock audition, write the excerpts down on a piece of paper, throw them in a bowl, and draw out about 5-7 excerpts. Playing the excerpts in a different order is also very helpful and essential to preparing.

E. Plan your practice time and set goals. A week or two prior to the audition, play the excerpts as if it were the real audition. The day before the audition, only warm-up or do light practicing. Be smart and save your chops for the audition.

III. Nerves and Performance Anxiety

A. Nervousness will always be a part of the performer’s life. Learning to accept your nerves and finding ways to cope with the anxiety is very important in making performing and auditioning more enjoyable.

B. Why am I nervous? What things make me nervous? Once you get to the root of these questions, you can focus on ways to overcome the obstacles that make you nervous.

C. We are often our own worst enemy when it comes to nerves.

  • Stay away from caffeine (soda, coffee, chocolate) prior to the audition.

  • Lower your sugar and salt intake.

  • Stay properly hydrated (6-8 glasses of water a day).

  • Exercise or have other hobbies that help with relaxation.

  • Stay away from “strange” foods (i.e. spicy, exotic — especially if you don’t eat it every day).

  • Know what to eat for breakfast, lunch, during a break, etc. Looks for foods that satisfy without giving you a bloated feeling. PowerBars are great for a snack between rounds.

D. Mantras can often help sooth nerves and increase your confidence. “Positive thoughts = positive results” in the majority of cases.

  • “I’m in control!”

  • “I can do this!”

  • “I’m calm/relaxed.”

  • “I’m prepared and ready!”

  • “Dude, I rock!”

E. Insightful books on Nerves and Performance Anxiety.

  • Notes from the Green Room: Coping with Stress and Anxiety in Musical Performance by Paul Salmon and Robert Meyer.

  • The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey (The Inner Game of Tennis is also a great resource).

  • A Soprano on her Head by Eloise Reistad.

  • Living Dangerously with the Horn by David Kaslow.

  • The Confident Performer by David Roland.

  • Mental Practice and Imagery for Musicians by Malva Freymuth.

  • In the Spotlight: Overcome your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing by Janet Esposito.

F. I have found that a certain style of meditation is useful. Before you laugh and shrug it off, try it out — imagery is key: first, learn how to clear your mind. Then, imagine you are performing; you always play perfectly, never missing a note, no matter what; you can see your surroundings (behind a screen on a small stage, etc.); you can see your clothing, the clothing of the proctor, the clothing of the jury; you can see the color of the seats, the drapes of the hall, etc. Be as specific as possible. Try to make yourself nervous and then relax while breathing. Doing this a few times really puts you more at ease — you’ve been at the audition before, many times, and you know what to expect.

IV. The Audition

A. Focus on why you are at the audition and why you play music. The audition committee wants to hear great music and is excited to hear you play. Use this as motivation to make music and play beautifully. They want you to succeed. They need you for their orchestra.

B. Backstage/Warm-up areas:

  • Sign-in, ask questions, and receive the excerpt order — if available. Sometimes it’s posted, other times it’s only posted just before you play the audition. Each orchestra may do things differently.

  • Focus on yourself and ignore other players. If you know players at the audition, politely acknowledge them and wait to visit with them until after you are finished with your audition.

  • Do not compare your playing to how other’s play. Be confident in your own abilities. You never know what a committee is looking for.

  • Stay with your normal warm-up routine. Don’t change anything. Consistency in everything you do is key for development and control.

  • Only start the excerpts, and think through the tempi, etc. You have practiced the excerpts a million times, and you’re ready, you don’t need another run-through — save it for the stage. Have confidence in your preparation and commit to your success.

  • Have a book, video game or other activity available to help distract yourself and help time pass between the rounds.

C. On Stage — at the audition:

  • Always empty the water/spit before playing (each & every time).

  • Have tempi in mind and hear the orchestral parts before you begin to play.

  • Take relaxed, full breaths and stay relaxed. Focus on making music & producing a beautiful sound.

  • If you make a mistake — keep going!

  • The audition committee may ask to re-hear a certain excerpt(s). They may also ask for something to be played differently. Be flexible, but remain calm and collected. Many auditions have audition proctors on stage, and they can answer questions and ask the audition committee for any clarification. Never address the committee directly.

  • The audition committee will be listening for a great sound, accurate and stable rhythm, pitch accuracy and intonation, and musical character. Simple! All the things we work on every day!

  • Sight-reading may also be required. Know what is coming up on their schedule of concerts for that season (or the coming season) as it may show up in sight-reading. Also, knowing other well-known excerpts that are not on the audition list is recommended.

  • Some people like to record their audition. This can be great in order to keep perspective after the audition process. If you do record, use a small recorder, something that does not take up much space and is easy to operate.

D. After the audition:

  • Keep the whole audition process in perspective… What is the worst that could happen? Learn from the experience, even if you win!

  • Keep a notebook on your thoughts; jot them down for future reference.

  • The next audition will be easier because you have experienced the whole process and have grown as a musician and as an individual.

  • After all the players in your audition group have played, they will announce who has been passed onto the next round. More excerpts from the list may be chosen, or they may ask to hear the some of the same excerpts again.

  • Many players will stick around. It’s always nice to socialize a little, don’t forget why you are there. It’s always a good idea to listen more than you speak.

  • There could be another ROUND! So keep you energy up, eat a snack and stay focused. Read your book, listen to music, play a video game. Stay relaxed.

V. You’ve won the audition! Congratulations! …Now what?

A. After winning an audition, you can verbally accept the job offer, but it's more common that the orchestra will contact you in a few days/weeks to begin discussions. You can ask for the contract and CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) or Musician By-Laws so that you can review them before officially accepting the position. Read the contract carefully, and make sure you understand the CBA or By-Laws. Also make sure you understand all your responsibilities and commitments.

B. Before you sign the contract, you may want to negotiate with the management on such items as moving costs, travel expenses, etc. (even salary). This process could be short or could last several days to a couple of weeks. Be patient, humble and kind. Once a contract is signed, there isn’t much room for negotiation.

C. Many first year musicians are on probation, and are not up for tenure until their second year. Make sure you understand how the orchestra handles probation and tenure. Also, make sure you understand what rights you have as a musician on probation.

D. If the orchestra is a union orchestra, you will need to join or move your union membership to that local.

E. Always keep copies of contracts, correspondence and other related materials. You never know when you might need them.

F. For any and all commitments, always show up early and allow plenty for travel time. Know your part well, and be a good section player and/or leader. Always bring all of your equipment, even if you don’t think you need it (perhaps keep it in the car just in case, or your locker if the orchestra has one). You never know when a conductor might ask for you to play with a particular mute. Be cordial and professional.

G. Keeping a job can be just as difficult as winning the job, especially today. Just because you have the job does not mean you sit back and relax. Prepare ALL parts to the best of your ability and practice diligently to improve your craft. After all, the journey is just beginning!

VI. What’s next in my career?

A. Everyone is different. Some will find teaching at a local college or university very exciting and rewarding. Others may find teaching privately is the best option. Either way, it’s nice for supplementing your income and sharing your knowledge.

B. You may find giving recitals will give you more musical options and may also challenge you in order to get to that next level. Whether it is stage fright, endurance, or a lack of solo literature knowledge, performing public recitals has many advantages.

C. Giving master classes has become a staple in an orchestral trumpeter’s arsenal. Many love to teach in this manner. It allows you to express a wide range of topics or give instant feedback to a performer.

D. You may find that the job you have is not what you expected or that your circumstances have changed. This happens frequently. The most important thing is that you stay focused on your goals and aspirations; you need to do what makes you happy. You may decide to begin the audition process again or teach full-time, or even go into a different field all together. Keep your mind and your options open. If needed, seek the advice of a mentor.